Friday, April 22, 2011


Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright, from Shadow of a Doubt
I used to get into these long discussions with the geezer with the deKalb hat down at the Texaco.  Back when Bush was running the country into the ground, deKalb was pretty happy, and seemed to enjoy a fairly civilized banter with someone like me who was at once more or less of his generation, but of a different political and cultural view.  But old deKalb never conceded a single point, and eventually I just decided that both him and his ilk had no interest at all in the proposition that, through discourse, one could move closer to the truth of things--which I guess would be the Socratic view of talkee-talkee.  Of course it may be that deKalb and myself had actually just encountered that rare but always possible moment when two totally polar opposites encounter each other.  That's science fiction for ya. Anyways, I'm writing this because I realized today that the moment where that realization I had--that deKalb was entirely beyond open-minded discourse--that place should have occurred way back before it actually did, on a day when "we were talking" (to use an inaccurate shorthand for what was actually happening) about life in the inner cities and the general atmosphere of racism in the US, and I mentioned the best piece of filmic art to have been produced in the last decade or two.  That would be the series "The Wire."  Hands down. 

I won't get into talking about The Wire.  If you've seen it you've seen it.  But what old deKalb did was to ridicule the specific reference to the Wire that I'd made (whatever it was, I don't really remember the details of the discussion) on the very general grounds that nothing in "the movies" has anything to do with real life--movies were just entertainment, pretty lies.  Anyone who thought to use anything in a movie to help understand life was just some dizzy romantic.  Or something.  At any rate, obviously not serious. 

That's exactly where I should have headed out into the sunset.  Eventually it was something else equally obsidian that did the trick.  I think maybe it was the time deKalb attacked George Soros for being complicit in the Holocaust because, as a teenager, Soros survived the Nazis in Hungary by pretending to be a Christian and working with a Christian family who was hiding him in their work of confiscating Jewish property.  We argued that one for a long time--so long I was an hour late for work (which wasn't much of a problem back in the halcyon days when I worked for myself, back before Bush ran the US into the ground and all the masonry jobs disappeared).  He was just a kid trying to survive the Nazis I said to deKalb.  Think about it, I said--he was 14.  The Nazis shot people including children on sight when they felt like it.  They were gassing millions of people.  They even beheaded people for christsake. 

Old deKalb didn't budge an inch.  I think the deal was, for deKalb George Soros was this evil rich guy who gave a lot of money to Democrats, and so there was just nothing deKalb wouldn't do to undermine the guy.  If I'd thought of it, I'd have mentioned the book Survivor (I think that's the name of it), about the soccer team that crashed in the Andes, and how some of them survived by eating the dead.  We have to understand what survival means.  It's a human trait, a fundamental thing as deep as a heart beat or a breath.  I had an aunt who ended up losing all her will to live when she had to leave the home place at 86 and move to a rest home.  She always said she wouldn't leave the home place.  At the rest home she stopped eating, and after a few weeks had to be hospitalized.  In the hospital the doctors said there's nothing really wrong with her, but she's given up, and we won't force feed her if you don't want us too.  She died, but it took her a week.  Her heart kept beating.  She kept breathing, each breath a little harder, a little more work.  But her body didn't quit.  Not for a very long time.  That's survival.  Old deKalb could shrug that off.  And so that was finally the moment I realized there was no dialog with this guy, none at all.  But the way he shrugged off The Wire, which is also about survival, that might have been the moment, and I would have saved a year at least of talkee-talkee.  So hopefully I won't miss that year some day, huh. 

Trump's like deKalb, by the way.  His justification for the "birther" tack he's taking isn't that it's true.  He just says it's a hot line for the base.  Which means Trump is just an entertainer, to the core.  He's in a movie, a real life one.  Republicans have been up for actors at least since Reagan.  They want a front man, and then they'll be fine with doing the real work behind the scenes, in the quiet and dark.  Mr. Ryan's little adventure with sunlight was probably a bit of a shock, but he'll learn.  Bush hand picked his audiences pretty much, and people with questionable tee-shirts were "detained" until he was back on the plane. 

The movie I watched after "Since You Were Away" was "Shadow of a Doubt."  It's set in 1943, a year or so after "Since You Were Away."  There's no mention of the war at all, but there are only older men and lots of women in view, and the family at the center of Shadow isn't that different from the one headed by Colbert.   Thornton Wilder co-wrote Shadow, and Hitchcock believed it was his best movie.  I've looked around some at the critical literature, and I've not found something that seems obvious to me at least--that the relationship between Uncle Charlie and his niece Charlie is very close to a child molestation situation in its hidden context, in the way the two have a subterranean language that is occurring while the rest of the world is oblivious, and in the way Uncle Charlie uses shame and fear to keep his niece under his thumb.  The crucial moment in the movie occurs when niece Charlie descends the stairs wearing the ring, and Uncle Charlie sees the ring.  For every one else, it's a ring--for Uncle Charlie it's a message and a threat--and a threat in the face of the fact that he's already tried to murder his niece twice, and she knows it.  Both movies excel in the subtle.  One of the fine touches in Shadow occurs near the end, with our glimpse of the widow on the train smiling at Uncle Charlie.  In Since You Went Away, one of my favorite moments (aside from the 100% taxes line I mentioned in an earlier post) is the kitchen scene at Christmas, when Colbert smokes a cigarette.  Come to think of it, Joseph Cotton is in that scene too. 

A nice pairing with either of these two movies might be Melville's Army of Shadows.  There's a domestic quality to Army of Shadows, a restraint which allows the viewer to feel.  Seems like that idea gets left out of too many movies these days.  But Army of Shadows is about a real world, it's not just an entertainment.  That's what deKalb refused, or pretended, not to get.  And the distinction between refused and pretended--that's kinda like what they say about Limbaugh, isn't it?  Is he a racist, or does he just play one on the teevee?  That's who's leading the GOP Presidential field right now.  One of those. 

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